I read this just after finishing The Year of Magical Thinking and enjoyed both very much. The author reveals depths of parental doubt rarely acknowledged by modern parents.
The book contains reminiscences and reflections about the life and death of the author's adopted daughter who died after a prolonged illness in her mid-thirties. They are roughly chronologic, but there does not seem to be a particular meaning to the order of presentation. It feels more like someone pawing through a box of photographs. She paints a vivid picture of her daughter and her loss without being melodramatic or morose. A parent who loses a child is entitled to self-pity, but these moments are brief and poignant.
She discusses both her own difficulties about becoming a parent and her daughter's problems with bipolar disorder and the inevitable baggage of adoption. It is charming to hear how naive and vulnerable Mrs. Didion was about parenting and the passages detailing her daughter's bipolar episodes are heart-wrenching.
The book was very emotionally touching because she includes so many personal details and everyday events that you really feel like a family friend. Somehow, acknowledging so many doubts and flaws makes her not only sympathetic, but also capable--because she is engaging her problems.
The performance is very good. Clear and sincere without being too dramatic.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the grieving process or the difficulty of parenting.
I liked learning about many influential thinkers that I had never heard of before. Many of their ideas were encapsulated or recapitulated by later thinkers, so there were no flashes of insight. Nevertheless, hearing who first engaged some of society's thorniest problems provided a very interesting read.
The professor has a thorough understanding and genuine affection for her subject and it makes the lectures very easy to listen to.
Because there was no separation of church and state the figures are heavily involved with the Catholic Church. There's no escaping that in a book like this, but if you are not interested in the medieval church you may not want to invest your time here.
The author critiques his ten worst presidents with humor and insight. He backs up his criticism with facts while acknowledging that other interpretations are valid. The piece is relatively light in tone and makes easy listening.
He has Democrats and Republicans on his list and there does not seem to be any agenda he is pushing. For example, there are bad isolationists and bad expansionists. His idea of "badness" is mostly (lack of) character driven e.g. Nixon, but overall (lack of) performance also makes someone a target, e.g. Carter.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in a critical look at American politics without a demagogue's screed.
This is an anthology of lectures pulled from other Great Courses. Apparently, someone decided on a list of revolutionary figures and then went in search of lectures that mention those people.
Unfortunately, the lecturers do not know that they are supposed to be talking about how or why these people were revolutionaries. Also, since the other courses vary in topic from art, history and politics it gives a very uneven feel to the work.
I couldn't finish it and would not recommend it.
This book is much better that Michael Warner's recent "The rise and fall of intelligence." He starts each lecture with a clear premise--"now we are going to discuss signals intelligence in WWI" and gives clear, complete examples.
The text is not technical, but he still manages to convey how technology and politics interact with the espionage community.
It is a concise and entertaining survey of espionage.
Anyone can tell you that Western civilization owes much to the ancient Greeks. But few people can give you the insight of this lecturer. He gives an in depth tour of ancient Greece in the 400s BCE and he does not attempt to hide the ugly aspects of a society that used slave labor. He uses the Persian and Peloponnesian wars as bookends for his examination.
He gives a detailed portrait of life for generals and politicians as well as everyday citizens and foreigners. In doing so he covers the historical and cultural events that shaped the city.
Finally, he discusses how the ancient Greeks were similar and different from us in their conception of ideas of freedom and democracy.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for an in depth look at the ancient Greeks, but you do need some familiarity with the material to get the most out of it. I would not recommend it as a first book about the ancient world.
I found this a very interesting look into the personalities of arguably the two best known American revolutionary generals. After demonstrating many similarities in their upbringing and career trajectories he shows how they ended up on paths to fame or infamy.
The pacing is well done and he weaves in important history without slowing the narrative. There is a genuine sense of excitement as he relates various campaign maneuvers and sieges. He also telegraphs just enough information to keep you oriented without spoiling the story.
I enjoyed the performance and felt the overall production value is high.
I found the book surprisingly dull and lacking insight. The author talks about how "intelligence" has been important to many historical events, but he is not interested in telling any stories or giving even brief biographies. The result is a random walk through the last 100 years of history from several different perspectives at once.
He will talk about China, Viet Nam, Northern Ireland and Central America in the same paragraph with the only common thread being secret information passing from person to person. He does not describe any covert operations or historical events from beginning to end which leaves the reader constantly adrift.
The author does not have any particular thesis about how intelligence grows or works, so you are never really sure why he chose a particular episode or technology to discuss.
He also assumes a fairly detailed understanding of 20th century history. He provides no context for events such as "Roosevelt and Stalin at Tehran" or "the Troubles" so it's not for historical dilettantes.
The performance is very dry but I am unsure if the reader was hamstrung by the material. Still, he should know how to pronounce "McAfee."
Being neither a collection of real life thriller moments nor an academic contemplation the book fell into a no man's land that I could not enjoy.
The book describes the finding and investigation of one of the most enigmatic ancient artifacts. Many theories have swirled around it (Aliens!) but in 2006 a group of math, astronomy and imaging specialists finally determined the purpose of the existing fragments.
She does a great job of describing the initial find and the first enthusiastic but erroneous interpretations of what the device was. All of the standard academic personalities are here--the Dreamer, the Enthusiastic Amatuer, the Double-crosser, the Possessive Curators, the serendipitous encounters.
I was particularly impressed by how she explained the subtleties of translating irregularities of lunar and solar motion into clockwork. Her descriptions of the actual bronze fragments were less clear, but since they are apparently barely recognizable as gears this is easy to forgive. She also describes future possibilities for investigation since there may have been more to the device than was recovered.
I was less happy with the performance. The reader has a whimsical delivery that the text really doesn't support, but her reading is accurate and easy to understand.
I would recommend this to someone interested in classical Greece and science history in general.
As someone with an extremely limited knowledge of music I have always felt intimidated by classical compositions. I could not tell you the difference between a symphony and a concerto, but after listening to these lectures I have a much better appreciation of them.
The lecturer's delivery is a cross of Lewis Black and George Will--authoritative but wickedly funny. He actually made me laugh out loud a few times. His passion for these works comes through in every lecture.
The format he follows is a brief bio-sketch of the composer followed by snippets of music and commentary. When he says "notice how the composer uses dissonant harmonies to convey struggle" you can actually hear it. Each lecture is meant to be complete in itself allowing you to jump around, but I found listening beginning to end to be most convenient.
This is an ideal work for an audio book.
This is a well researched book but it could be half as long if he didn't repeat himself so often.
He presents many nuggets of video game lore. Often he has found the original sources for stories that have become myths. This allows him to tell the myth and the real events that generated the story. This is not the repetition I am complaining about.
When presenting details of a story his style is like this:
They started having problems with their chips around this time. "Our engineers said that there was a problem with the chips."--Joe CEO. "I was working as an engineer at that time and we encountered several problems with the chips."--Jim Engineer.
Each iteration of the information adds nothing to the story and it becomes very frustrating to listen to.
This appears to be the definitive work on video game history, but the writing makes it difficult to get through.
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